Rockets Mania

Rockets Mania" is a phrase everyone in Houston has been bantering around for the past few weeks, but some Houstonians have apparently taken the word "mania" literally. The following are just a few examples of what an NBA championship drive can bring out in a person -- from the best to, as is more often the case, the worst.

Chronicle Called for Personal Foul
When filmmaker Spike Lee followed his beloved Knicks to Houston for the opening brace of games in the NBA finals, Houston Chronicle reporter John Williams just had to have the story. Before the Knicks arrived, reporters from both the Chronicle and the Post faxed requests for interviews to the movie mogul's Brooklyn headquarters. According to Post reporter Clifford Pugh, Lee called him back shortly after his fax was sent. Unfortunately for Williams, Lee didn't respond to the Chronicle's request for an interview. When Pugh's story appeared in the Post with quotes from Lee, Williams decided to change his approach.

In an attempt to ingratiate himself with Lee, Williams, who is white, decided to play the racial card. With his second request for an interview, Williams sent the director newspaper clippings about the 1991 boycott of the Post by local black ministers in response to the paper's coverage of mayoral candidate Sylvester Turner's campaign.

Williams admits that sending the clips was a bad decision, but says he was simply doing his job. "I was just getting desperate," says Williams. He then adds, in the true spirit of Anthony Mason hacking away at Hakeem Olajuwon, "But was it a dirty trick or just good competition?"

He Shoots, He Doesn't Score
However egregious the personal actions of the print media may have been, true public embarrassments were left in the hands of those on the electronic side of the aisle. While it may have been a good idea to watch the televised games with the sound turned down and Gene Peterson turned up, when it came to the news, alas, such options weren't available. After the Rockets' victory in game three, millions watched as the spirit of Gomer Pyle invaded the bodies of Channel 2 sportscasters Craig Roberts, Spencer Tillman and Lisa Malosky. Roberts and Malosky didn't actually say shazam while warbling on about all of New York's "tall buildings" and suchlike, but you know they were thinking it. Tillman looked absolutely stunned by his own important place in the universe when he announced that he'd already been to New York five times and seen the same Broadway show six times. He ended his segment by recording his taxi ride from the airport to the New York Hilton and leaving us secure in the knowledge that he'd arrived at his hotel "in one piece."

A Legal Offense
Rockets fans in the employ of the Haynes & Boone law firm believe they were unfairly left in the lurch minutes before the tipoff of Game One, when their plans to watch the game at a local pizzeria were slam-dunked.

According to attorney Jeff Nobles, he and a large group from his office decided to watch the opening battle at Star Pizza II on Heights Boulevard, having seen the restaurant's marquee inviting the public to view the big game. Nobles claims that when he called to make reservations, he was told that the restaurant doesn't take them. However, he was told that if he and his party arrived early, they could get a table in the TV room.

Nobles' group arrived at the appointed hour, but there was a slight problem. The TV room had in fact been reserved -- by the rival law firm Fulbright & Jaworski. It wasn't until halftime that the out-maneuvered legal eagles were able to slide in back and get a view of the court action.

Rockets a la Mode
Forget fish tacos, those tired old things. Out of our insatiable appetite for Rockets trivia lurches a peculiar new culinary trend: Rockets Cuisine. Homemade pork-chop sandwiches, heretofore a soulful and shamefully neglected retro item, have acquired sudden glamour as the excitable Vernon Maxwell's ritual pre-game fuel (and one that seems destined to cramp his style should he convert to Islam, as Hakeem Olajuwon is urging him). No doubt some enterprising Houston eatery is printing up new menus reviving this obscure American classic even as you read.

Certain restaurants are better positioned than others to cash in on Rockets Cuisine. Prego, for instance, the Rice Village trattoria where Kenny Smith does his pre-game carbo-loading, would be foolish not to rename its spinach fettuccine with grilled chicken, mushrooms, peas and garlic cream in his honor. Fettuccine Smith doesn't exactly have a ring to it, but marketing's marketing.

Pappadeaux's honcho Greg Pappas has been getting major mileage out of the infamous affaire du cheesecake, in which "Go Rockets" was piped on the offending piece -- ordered by Patrick Ewing -- in fruit puree. That guerrilla touch sent Ewing storming out of the restaurant, and may find itself immortalized on Pappadeaux's menu.

And then there's the two-pound "Hakeem the Dream" absurdity invented by New York's Carnegie Deli. A hot-selling conglomeration of pastrami, corned beef, turkey, brisket, Swiss, cole slaw, pickles and hot pepper, its nightmarish quality is mitigated by its metaphoric intent ("It has a little bit of everything, like Hakeem's game," opined the Carnegie's manager). When it migrates to Houston, as it must, it will have to be at a discount. Houstonians will never pay $15.95 for a sandwich, even if Rockets Cuisine proves to have post-tournament legs and spawns the all but inevitable Christmas-gift-item cookbook.

Put Rockets Cuisine on the couch, though -- a real temptation, given that everything the team did seemed to push Houston's psychic buttons -- and it takes on a darkly primal aspect. Eating celebrity food brings to mind certain cannibalistic societies in which one consumed the body parts of admired warriors who had fallen in combat in hopes of acquiring their traits. Wisdom, say. Or ferocity in battle. The lesson here may be to beware of any fellow citizen caught in possession of a pork-chop sandwich.


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